This post is part of a synchro blog event sponsored by Big Tent Christianity Please check out lots of additional posts on their website, and consider attending the Big Tent Christianity conference in Raleigh, NC September 8-9. Go to the website for all the information and conversation.
Big Tent Christianity?? What the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is that? For many the very notion of Big Tent Christianity sounds like a shortcut to hell, under the pretense of being on the high road to heaven. For others anything less than Big Tent Christianity smacks of a parochial religiosity that emphasizes very limited human formulations of God and salvation at the expense of a recognition that salvation is God's work, never our own doing, even though Paul tells us to "work out our own salvation", and he tells us to do it "with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).
How do we make real progress towards Big Tent Christianity without sacrificing the very diversity that makes this world a rich place? Is Big Tent Christianity even a worthy goal or is it a distraction best ignored? The last thing I am interested in Big Tent Christianity that turns a vibrant mosaic of Christian expression into an amorphous mass of like-minded believers who can never have a meaningful and challenging discussion about theology because we are all in such sublime agreement. That is not unity, but uniformity. Judging from the diversity that is displayed in God's handiwork of creation such uniformity would be decidedly ungodly, and likewise unchristian. It is our diversity that makes us strong, and without diversity our facility for modeling the imago dei is fatally compromised.
I believe passionately that the only way to broaden our vision is to narrow our focus. The more detail we wish to include in our definition of Big Tent Christianity, the more we will require our fellow believers to surrender if they wish to be part of this "larger" Christianity. Our only hope for a Big Tent Christianity is to get back to the original formulation of Christianity, the formulation that predates Christianity itself.
How radical are we willing to be? Are we willing to get so radical that we lose our Christian identity in Christ? Jesus said "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6). If it is really all about Jesus Christ, and if Jesus is The Way, then Christianity is not The Way. If we define Christianity by salvation in Jesus Christ, then Christianity loses its status as a favored religion because salvation is in Jesus Christ, not in any religion. That no religion saves is an old saw that Christians are only too happy to enunciate, if ultimately reticent to follow to its logical conclusion. However, that most narrow definition of Christianity is in fact the most comprehensive definition.
It is this most narrowly focused, yet comprehensive definition of Christianity that lays a solid foundation for a Big Tent Christianity, a Big Tent Christianity that is big enough to include even those who subscribe to an other religion, because if religion cannot save, neither can it single-handedly preclude salvation. Jesus told enough stories about people who espoused a particular truth, but lived another truth, to make it clear that what we say with our words can neither save us nor condemn us, without regard to what our lives say. It is not those who say "Lord, Lord", but those who do his will who enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21ff; 25:31ff).
Hence, the notion of a Big Tent Christianity carries within itself the seeds of it own demise as a unique way to God, because the Tent must become large enough to problematize the nomenclature of Christianity as a term that is sufficient to encapsulate God's salvific work. But that, too, is a biblical notion. Jesus said "unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." (John 12:24) That was said of individual believers, but if the metaphor works for wheat and humans, it likely has legitimate application for broader body politics as well.
I dream of Big Tent Christianity that is large enough to realize that we can never take God’s Word to where it has not yet been, because God’s Word is already everywhere (Psalm 19). I dream of a Big Tent Christianity that is small enough to recognize that a cup of cold water is God’s work. I dream of a Big Tent Christianity that learns to notice what God is already doing in the world, and delights in participating with God in loving an awesome Creation. I dream of a Big Tent Christianity that is satisfied with God’s kingdom advancing, rather than advancing a particular version of Christianity/Christendom.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!